New York City: City Council opposes new mayor Eric Adams on jail policy

Since January 1, Eric Adams has been mayor of New York City, the largest city in the United States with 8.5 million residents. The public inauguration took place shortly after midnight at the traditional New Year’s Eve celebration in Times Square. Because of the record number of Omikron infections, it was smaller than usual at 15,000 people. In light of the call by President Joe Biden’s Covid chief advisor, Anthony Fauci, to forgo large celebrations altogether this year, this nonetheless caused surprise among many New Yorkers.

Adams caused a stir even before moving into City Hall on Broadway. „What I’m going to do is ignore them,“ he said, regarding New York City Council members. „Whether they like it or not, I am the mayor.“ What had happened? Twenty-nine elected officials, a majority of the 51-member body whose job is, among other things, to oversee the mayor, had opposed Adams‘ plan to maintain solitary confinement in the city’s detention facilities. That practice is classified as torture by experts and the U.N. Many other major cities in the U.S. have recently restricted its use.

„We were very surprised,“ newly elected leftist Assemblywoman Alexa Avilés tells „nd.“ „That the mayor and I – and that goes for many members of the City Council – have very different views of public safety, we knew. Many human rights organizations and individuals including the previous mayor, Bill de Blasio, were in favor of abolition and it was a success that it was passed. The fact that Adams now wants to keep it jarred us and we felt obligated to respond.“ Like Adams, Avilés is from the borough of Brooklyn.

Adams‘ response to the criticism from the City Council: Only those who, like him, have worn a bulletproof vest for 22 years as a police officer are allowed to question him. Avilés says with a laugh, „That’s how we are in Brooklyn. Straight up. But we’re also elected officials and we bring years of work and commitment. It’s not the only criteria if you’ve worn a police vest when public safety decisions have to be made.“

In New York State, african americans make up 18 percent of the population but 48 percent of the prison population. The ethnic disparity continues in solitary confinement: more than four-fifths of those subject to solitary confinement are Black and Latino. The practice has been increasingly curtailed in recent years under De Blasio. Under his predecessor, up to 1,000 people a day were still in solitary confinement in city jails such as the notorious Rikers Island; most recently, only three dozen remained.

Last year, then-New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a law limiting solitary confinement in the state to a maximum of 15 days and banning it for minors and other groups such as the mentally ill. A bill to ban solitary confinement in New York City has 34 supporters in the City Council, an absolute majority.

Councilwoman Avilés also hopes for common policies despite major differences, for example in the fight for affordable housing and protecting workers from being fired without cause. The mayor, who himself comes from humble beginnings and took the subway on his first day on the job, has declared his commitment to New York’s working class, she said. Unlike his predecessor Bill de Blasio, with whom much of his electorate is disappointed after two terms, Adams did not run as a leftist. Instead, he has run an election campaign that wants to answer crime with a heavy hand from the police, while the progressive wing of the party – partly because of its experience with racist violence from the ranks of the police – preferred to redirect resources for this purpose to social and educational programs.

The disputes within the Democrats in New York City politics, which are dominated by the Democrats, are therefore likely to be exciting. They are similar to those in the U.S. Congress. There, Joe Biden’s narrow majority is repeatedly called into question by a small minority of his own party. Senator Joe Manchin of the right-leaning fringe is currently blocking the extension of the pandemic-increased child benefit and Biden’s social infrastructure package.

„In any other country, Joe Biden and I would not be in the same party, but in America we are,“ left-wing New York Assemblywoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez once said. Unlike the German party system, the two parties in the U.S. assemble very broad coalitions. It is almost impossible to influence legislation outside the Democratic Party. Regarding the debates in the U.S. Congress, Alexa Avilés says: „It’s a constant disappointment for every leftist in this country. Yes, we are part of the same Democratic Party. But not by conviction. Time and time again, the party leadership has compromised at the expense of the disadvantaged and for the corporations and the richest. I’m really tired of it.“

By former Left Party member of the Bundestag Stefan Liebich. He is a fellow at the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation in New York City now.

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